Change and Continuity by Lorraine
This winter we ran out of brochures about the farm and decided to revise our brochure before printing new ones. We also have been revising our web site as we have each winter since we created it. In doing those things we’ve had to look again at our mission and at how we communicate that to people who knew the farm before we did as well as to people hearing about it for the first time.
At one time hosting student groups was both the main financial support and the primary activity of the farm. For various reasons, fewer such groups now come. As service learning groups became popular, there were increased inquiries from schools and colleges, especially for spring break trips. But often those trying to schedule weeks didn’t have time to hear what the farm is actually about. Sometimes when the campus ministers did take time, the students to whom they were “selling” the trip weren’t really listening. Because young people were getting busier and busier during the summers when we especially needed extra hands, people who talked with us and thought the farm would be a good place for their group eventually realized they couldn’t get together people for the trip. At some point we became uncomfortable with the selling of the experience of coming to the farm. Also we realized that the farm’s existence is not dependent on marketing the farm to groups. So while we still welcome groups of students or anyone else who is interested in living and working with us for a while, the focus of the farm is no longer on recruiting and scheduling them.
Recognizing this we have spent another winter doing the little things that we can to share the bounty of the farm. This is our third year of using the extra milk to make hard cheeses in the cold months when we have no pigs. The well house seems to be a better place for aging cheese than the refrigerator (first year) or the pantry (second year). Since October we’ve made about 60 pounds of cheddar, Colby, gouda, and Monterey jack in addition to the cream cheese and soft herbed cheese we make year round. Our new hens, in their well lit and convenient winter coop, have kept laying eggs right through the cold and dark of the year. A couple weeks ago we began again giving farm produce, right now garlic and eggs and cheese, to the soup kitchen. Between shoveling snow and tending livestock and stoking the boiler and making cheese, we are again making toys for refugee children. Zach has used the tractor to plow out our parking area and also to pull neighbors out of ditches or snow drifts when they’ve gotten stuck.
Winter means more time on the phone and in meetings. People call when they’ve found the SFF website and want to ask questions about starting a Catholic Worker or about gardening or goats. We call and check on folks who might need to be shoveled out or just someone to talk when they can’t get out. Jo and Zach went to the soup kitchen to prepare and eat lunch and to ask about what they can best use. Joanna has been visiting area churches to talk to people about the farm. She and I will be meeting with the principal and counselor at the local elementary school this week, looking at ways to bring local kids to the farm. We’ve talked to the staff of Bright Horizons, a community service club for adults who are recovering from mental illness, about doing community service work and enjoying recreation at the farm.
The coming seasons will make changes in our plans but the mission remains the same: ‘to live an alternative to the consumer culture, a way of life based on the Gospels and on Catholic Worker principles. The Core Members try to live sustainably and reduce our consumption of resources. We seek to help others simplify their lives by our example, providing material and practical assistance, and offering prayerful presence and a place for reflection.’
The Big Yellow House by Peg McCarthy
When Fr. Bob Jones and Peg McCarthy came to visit in January, they brought a donation to the farm from the sale of Elizabeth House in Bernhards Bay. They talked with us about St. Francis Farm’s involvement in the opening of that house of hospitality and about the events and emotions involved in closing the house. I asked them to write about it for the SFF newsletter and the following was written by Peg on behalf of the Elizabeth House Community.
In the spring of 1993 having been sent out by Father McVey to find a place– a house—a house of hospitality, Father Jones and I began a quest to find such a place. Not having been in this Catholic Worker thing for very long, we were not sure exactly what we were looking for, but after several months when our realtor friend Shirley showed us the big yellow house on Route 49 in Bernhards Bay, we knew this was the house we had been looking for. On Easter Monday 1994 we gathered there with a core group of friends and neighbors from our former parish and believed that we would do a little dusting, cleaning, and maybe painting but learned to our despair that there was much more to be done to this tired old farmhouse. We were told that it must be gutted, the electrical wiring replaced, then insulated and sheet rocked and all that goes with that.
How could we ever accomplish such a feat? How would we begin! Who would know how to do this! How could we hire all of this done–where would the money come from?
By the end of that day, we had some of our answers. Mike, the husband of one of our friends that had gathered that morning, came forward, looked over the house and within a few days had drawn plans for what seemed to be an overwhelming project. Then after talking to John Donnelly at St. Francis Farm, we learned that our workers would be college students and volunteers through this wonderful place on Wart Road in Richland. For the next two years, during the spring and summer vacations, these good people came week after week and we tore down old walls, dragging debris to the dumpster in the front yard, and after the wiring was completed by Mike and one of the men from our parish community and inspected, we insulated all the walls and then hung sheet rock, with the lovely job of applying the “mud”, sanding, sanding, and sanding and finally painting the new walls.During those two years, we not only worked along with these good folks from St. Francis Farm, but we broke bread and prayed with them every Friday at supper with Mass in their chapel upstairs in the barn after our meal. We became community with this holy place and have wonderful memories of those precious days.
The big yellow house in Bermhards Bay was converted to the house of hospitality that we had been looking for. It became the home of 3-4 people, an occasional respite for others and a weekly gathering place on Wednesdays with luncheon for mostly seniors but many others who sought friendship. As one of our seniors often mentioned, he came mostly for the fellowship.
In the book of Ecclesiastes we read, “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven . . . “ In the fall of 2007 we came to realize that our season had come. Sharon and John, our remaining residents of Elizabeth House, as well as Sandy, moved on to apartments as living in this big two story house was becoming more difficult and the financial cost of the utilities and maintenance of the house had become more than we could any longer afford or physically be able to handle.
And so the painful decision was made to put our beloved Elizabeth House on the market for sale. The sale has been completed and a very happy family with five children is now living there and love their new home. Our weekly luncheons moved to St. Bernadette’s Church Hall in Constantia and we have joined the Senior Nutrition Program under Oswego County Opportunities which is held at St. B’s three days each week ably managed by my Irish daughter-in-law Deirdre.
We all miss our Elizabeth House but are grateful to continue to be together each week at “Bernadette’s Bistro” where good food and fun is experienced.
There is no way that we can thank so many for their faithful support during these past fifteen years and St. Francis Farm for getting us off the ground in the beginning, helping us to “build” this house. It has been a beautiful, wonderful journey. This has been a difficult time for us, a time of transition, “a time for crying” but it is also a time for loving, for hugging and yes, even a time for laughing. A birthday card to one of our friends read something like this, “We all got together . . . and no one knows how to get us apart.”
Homemade Toys from St. Francis Farm Please Refugee Children
This Christmas toys that were made at St. Francis Farm from wood, fabric, wire and beads were played with by children who came from all over the globe. These toys were delivered to InterFaith Work’s Center for New Americans on the north side of Syracuse and distributed to more than 150 children from 90 newly arrived refugee families from Burma, Cuba, Somalia, Sudan and Liberia.
The toys included wooden hippos with mouths that clacked and little people that moved up and down in wooden buses. There were wooden frogs that jumped when pulled and birds made of rope, wood and a few feathers that pecked for food. There were wooden rattles that clacked when rolled and whole families of tiny dolls that reflected the many colors of refugee children. The toys were made from beautiful wood and bright colors. There were no worries about lead paint or small pieces. These homemade toys provide a welcome respite from the ever present mass marketed and mass produced plastic and easily broken toys available from the dollar store. Everyone who saw the toys wanted to touch and play with them–the refugee children, their parents and even the refugee center staff and volunteers. These are toys that will last as they give pleasure and encourage the imagination of refugee children adjusting to their new life in Central New York.
Hope Wallis, Director of the Center for New Americans, sent the above article for the newsletter. When asked about the Center’s “wish list” she mentioned a constant need for socks and underwear, new and in all sizes. Toys to be distributed at Christmas should be basic and sturdy and not require reading. Educational and developmental toys are much appreciated. The Center does not have room to store toys throughout the year so seeks to collect them during the first half of December. We are making more toys for next Christmas here at the farm and welcome help with that work as well as with growing vegetables to share at the Center. –Lorraine
Maintenance by Zachary
Since our last newsletter I have not been able to get out and do much work because of snow, but we had a thaw in January for a week or two. We began to thin the red pine plantation at that time, which has been on our list of things to be done ever since 2002. It was satisfying to finally get started on that project. The trees range up to a foot in diameter, but many are small. We are removing some trees to make room for the remaining ones to grow, which was recommended by a DEC forester who looked at the farm’s woods in 2001. We are saving some of the larger logs to cut into boards on our sawmill and cutting up the smaller logs into firewood sizes for Unity Acres’ boiler. Their boiler is able to burn pine, while ours can burn only hardwood. Now the thinning is waiting until the snow melts.
At the time of the thaw I also began putting up notices that we have hardwood lumber for sale, and quite a lot of interest was expressed. We sold 275 board feet at that time, and there were others who would have come to buy lumber but were prevented when the snow started again. Sawing hardwoods from dead or fallen trees on the farm costs us very little and by selling the lumber to individuals rather than to a wholesaler we are able to get a higher price, and the buyers can get lumber for less than they can elsewhere. We also have enjoyed meeting the people who have come to buy lumber and hearing about the projects for which they plan to use it. In the spring when I can get to the mill again I will also saw logs that people bring to the mill. It is my hope that by providing sawing services and lumber the mill will pay for itself over a few years.
We are proceeding with plans for the construction of a new barn in the plot between the farmhouse and the well house. We will be framing the barn with red pine thinned from the plantation and aspen. Aspen grows very quickly but does not live long and has a very low commercial value. I have been told that it makes good framing lumber provided that it is not left exposed to the weather. In the areas where the aspen is growing there are smaller maple and ash trees that will be able to grow more rapidly once the aspen is removed. I am planning to use hemlock siding on the building. I am hoping that the loggers will come and cut our timber sale soon, as they have contracted to bring out some hemlock from across the stream along with the trees they have bought. The loggers have until the end of the year to cut the trees, but it is unclear whether they will come or not. The wholesale price of logs has dropped substantially from what it was at the time when the sale was completed. If they do not come we will have to figure out a plan for how to move the trees to our side of the stream. We would be very glad of help with the barn construction.
This winter I have been spending a fair amount of time maintaining and repairing heating systems, plowing snow and shoveling roofs, and I am looking forward to the spring, which should be coming soon. We have begun making toys for next year’s Christmas distribution at the refugee center while we have time indoors. I have added a dinosaur and gorilla to the assortment of types we make. I recently bought a used thickness planer for my own projects, and it is also proving useful for some of the farm’s work now that we have the sawmill. It needed a new bearing, so I was able to buy it quite inexpensively and change the bearing myself. We are planning to try making maple syrup this year. I have found some trees that are not very far from the road so that I can get to them easily. We have ten taps to set this year, and if the project goes well we might have more next year. We have purchased a large pan to boil the sap and I am going to make hooks so that we can hang one gallon water jugs from the taps. Our first two gallons of homemade syrup will cover the cost of the equipment, and I am looking forward to learning how to boil the sap down properly.
Stop and Think! by Joanna
Our mission statement commits us ‘to live an alternative to the consumer culture, a way of life based on the Gospels and on Catholic Worker principles.’ Our readings and experiences this winter have given me a clearer sense of what this means. The consumer culture teaches us to ignore the context and consequences of our actions. This disconnection profoundly changes our ways of thinking, eating, working and relating. When we try to live attentively we become painfully aware of the damage caused by these changes. We also are set free to begin working back toward wholeness.
In January some friends and I went into the Pulaski high school with information for students who don’t expect to go to college. We covered aspects of military service that aren’t mentioned in the recruiters’ sales pitch as well as other opportunities to earn money, get education and job training and serve the community. The poster above our table read “Where do you go from here? Stop and Think!” Several people read the words aloud to themselves, sounding puzzled. An adult said “We’d be here all day if we did that!” and kept going. A few students stopped to take information. A teacher told us that when military recruiters come to the school they bring exciting posters and free yo-yos. She said this approach gets students’ attention much more effectively than asking them to think. One of my friends started to suggest items we could give away next time. I had to stop and think. My intention wasn’t to sell AmeriCorps programs or Department of Labor apprenticeships or even to keep students out of the military. I hoped to get students to step back and look critically at the sales pitches that were made to them. I hoped they would stop and think about who they were, what they valued, what they wanted and what they were willing to do and to give up in order to get it. Slick posters and freebies might be counter-productive.
I was reminded of a book which one of our guests recommended to us last fall. Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death describes how the basic medium of American culture has shifted from books, which lend themselves to complex language presented in context, to TV and other electronic media, which lend themselves to a rapid succession of exciting images without context. Postman writes about the increased power of advertising in electronic culture and lists the life lessons taught by commercials: “that being sold solutions is better than being confronted with questions, that all problems have fast solutions, that complex language is not to be trusted, that argument is in bad taste and leads only to intolerable uncertainty.” Many of the young people we encounter seem to have absorbed these lessons. They are easily manipulated by sales pitches and reluctant to slow down and think things through for themselves.
But it isn’t only commercials that shape our thoughts and lives in problematic ways. News in the electronic media is a barrage of images and facts from around the world, some trivial and some terrible. In spite of their lack of context or connection to our daily lives, most of us feel some obligation to ‘keep informed’. We fill our minds and lives with these images which we feel helpless to affect or even assimilate. This sense of disconnection and powerlessness eats into our lives and communities. Fewer and fewer people work in their communities or with people whom they care about or to produce what their families need. All the things they need, including ‘jobs’, come to them through an economic system that is beyond their control and understanding.
Eating in this culture has become as fragmented and displaced as work and information-gathering. This winter we read Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about a year that her family spent eating food grown close to home. She describes how the commercial food system damages the health of individuals and communities. Most people no longer know where their food comes from. Some are disturbed by seeing that vegetables grow in dirt and that milk and meat actually come from animals, and most think that the work of growing food is beneath them. Food production has shifted to a highly mechanized system based on monocultures and synthetic chemicals. Producing food in this way requires the exploitation of migrant workers and the pollution and depletion of soil and water. This damage is invisible to most eaters, who have been trained not to see food in context. Instead of thinking of the health of the land where their food was grown and the health of the people who grow and eat it, they learn to want the unhealthy highly-processed food that they see advertised. She wrote, “We had come to the farmland to eat deliberately…We were going to spend a year integrating our food choices with our family values, which include..‘love your neighbor’ and ‘try not to wreck every blooming thing on the planet while you’re here’.”
Living an alternative to the consumer culture means looking at everything in context. When we do this it becomes clear that eating is inescapably communal, ethical and spiritual. What we eat determines how the earth is used and how our neighbors are treated. If we believe that the earth and all its creatures were made by God and belong to God, that they are not our possessions to use or waste as we please, then we cannot ignore the ways in which our eating changes the Creation. It also becomes clear that it is not our place to persuade our neighbors to choose what we would choose. They are not ours, they are God’s. All we can do is invite them into a space where they can lay aside distractions, see themselves clearly and listen to the still small voice.
Having seen as clearly as we can, we do the little things that come to us. Growing food to eat and share and inviting neighbors and guests to join us has been basic to St. Francis Farm’s work since we arrived. We’re still learning how to do this more sustainably; this coming year we’ll be experimenting with reduced tillage in the garden, which helps to preserve the relationships between roots and microorganisms that build healthy soil. I will go back to the school and offer questions, information and a listening presence. We will continue to keep space in our lives and hearts so that we can be present to neighbors and guests as they come. This work is slow, unpredictable andalways changing. Sometimes people don’t come when we expect them, and sometimes they come when we are in the middle of something else and not feeling particularly ready or welcoming. Sometimes we feel lonely and unable to connect across our differences. But small hopeful things keep happening. A neighbor to whom we have given eggs and vegetables stops by with venison or wild mushrooms to share. Another comes to borrow a book on wild plants and talk about the things he’s seen in our woods. Summer guests write to tell us about the simplicity discussions or community gardens that they are starting in their own neighborhoods and churches. This work isn’t spectacular or easy to promote. But in doing it attentively we move back toward wholeness and find our place as creatures in the Kingdom of God.
A Day in the Life by Lorraine
Sometimes inquiries from folks who want to visit the farm include the request that we describe a typical day. We tend to laugh or shrug since there doesn’t seem to us to be anything that predictable but I think of the question sometimes in the midst of certain days. I remember the one in 2003 when Joanna and I spent the morning doing our usual farm chores and assisting the vet who had come to castrate one of the steers (belonging to Unity Acres but pastured at the farm) and then met with law students who were helping us with the incorporation process in the afternoon. So for this newsletter I am writing about Tuesday, April 8, 2008.
It began as all days here, with morning prayer at 7. This may be held in the chapel or out by the pond and some may get up with just time to get to prayers while others may have been up for an hour or so. Prayers were held in the chapel and at 7:30 Joanna went to milk the goats while I made breakfast (oatmeal and raspberry scones) and Zachary put the pot with the last batch of sap, which had been mostly boiled down outside the day before, on the stove to finish off. When Joanna came in with the milk from Amahl she announced that Nikita, the goat which had been dry since late February, was bagging up. This was good news since the vet had ultrasounded her a few weeks ago and didn’t think she was pregnant. We had expected her to kid in May although there was a possibility she could have been bred the first time we took her to the buck and would kid during the second week of April. We were glad we’d gotten the winter bedding cleaned out of the goat shed on Monday, the first day the snowbank in front of the pole barn had been low enough to get the dump wagon close to the door.
Zachary and I canned the last two quarts and a pint of syrup and headed for Sandy Creek. We had a tire to be repaired, children’s clothes for the Friendship Shop, eggs and goat cheese for the Soup Kitchen, and stuff for window washing. We dropped off the tire and went to do spring chores for a friend. Zach left after he helped with whatever I couldn’t reach or lift and I finished the windows and had time to visit while he dropped off the stuff and picked up grain at the feed store. On the way home we stopped at the library to post information about the TV TurnOff week and the nature walk at the farm on Earth Day.
Back at the farm Joanna had been turning compost and keeping an eye on the goats. Nikita just wanted to lie down and be left alone and Amahl resented being penned separately from her. After lunch Zachary cut firewood while Joanna got back to work in the garden. I kept running back and forth from kitchen or office to goat pen, believing that Nikita would soon be kidding. I made spaghetti sauce with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers grown in last summer’s garden and got pesto from the freezer for supper.
After washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen, we headed out for an evening walk. Finally the snow was melted from much of the fields and we didn’t have to stay on the paved road. Zach was disappointed that the lower lying woods were still quite snowy so he couldn’t get to the big dying maples he wanted for logs and firewood. I was listening for wood frogs or peepers but none were singing yet.
Joanna and I had settled into the chapel with our books when Zachary took a phone call and came to tell us that a Quaker friend had called to see if we would host peace marchers in May. Groups were starting at various points headed toward Ft. Drum and stopping in towns along the way so that speakers from Iraq Veterans Against the War could speak. May 14 they needed a place to stay in the Pulaski area. Like many requests we didn’t have enough information yet to say yes or no so we thought of the questions we needed to ask and Zach agreed to follow up on them.
Six weeks later it is time to put together the newsletter and I am feeling good that my writing for it is pretty much done. The two kids born April 29 won’t be with us long but while they are they get plenty of attention and take time. The marchers came last week–about 50 for supper and about 30 who stayed overnight. (For more information about this march visit http://nysmarchesforpeace.org .) Saturday the parish priest who started asking months ago about bringing a group of teens in June called to say they will be going somewhere else–where they can do what they recognize as service projects. For this week and maybe next Octavio is staying with us while Deacon Sweenie looks for a good place for him to work. (Octavio’s story is in the next article.) Yesterday he was with Joanna in the garden and she says she never saw anyone get so much done so fast. Today he is with Zach taking firewood to Unity Acres and bringing in logs from the pine plantation. The ladies from the soup kitchen just stopped to pick up eggs and herbs and gave us 3 shiny new cutting boards. And Jim brought us pig bread from Unity Acres–we had run out two days ago. The most typical thing about the days is that it is very hard to say who is helping and who is being helped.
Deacon Sweenie brought Octavio May 18 and took him on the 25th to meet a contractor who would take him to a dairy farm in Ohio. During the week he was here, Octavio worked and prayed, ate and talked with us. He used the opportunity to practice his English and to stop and think about his choices. He had been working six 11 hour days each week, with no break in the shifts, and said he hadn’t had time to think much. He helped with our Spanish as well as with our work and enjoyed our evening walks, music and games. He told the following story to Joanna mostly in Spanish and she translated it. Lorraine edited it to remove repetition and to add his answers to clarifying questions.
In my country the land is good, we can grow a good harvest. If we could sell our products at home, we would not need to leave our families and take the risk of coming to the United States. But as it is, we work hard all the time to grow crops, and then the price is so low that they are not worth selling. So we begin to dream of going to the U.S. and making money instead of staying home, working hard and gaining nothing. This dream is like a sickness that comes to all the young people–not so much to the older ones. Many Mexicans plan to come here for a little while, work hard, make money and then go back to their families. Some do this. Some forget their families. Maybe they marry an American woman, buy a house, try to start a new life here. Then Immigration deports them, they lose everything they had and go home with empty hands. A Mexican cannot make a life here, cannot have land, a home, a family, cannot even come and go freely. But the young people still believe the dream.
To cross the borderlands they must hire coyotes to guide them. Some coyotes are honest, but many take the immigrants’ money and abandon them in the desert, or else hold them captive and threaten to report them to Immigration or even kill them if their families do not send more money.
When I came to this country the second time I looked for a coyote near the frontier. He passed me on to another coyotecloser to the border. I went to the Rio Bravo and crossed with this coyote. On the other side another coyote took me to a house and locked me in there with 25 other people. We had no food or water for 3 days; he just stayed there smoking and drinking. Finally 5 people ran away. Maybe Immigration caught them, I don’t know. When the coyote found out he was angry. He made us all walk through the mountains. We had to find water and food as we walked.
Then we came to a highway. Vans came and picked workers up. Some of us were taken to a hotel and locked in. Thecoyotes asked who would pay for us. I didn’t know if people who didn’t pay would be reported to Immigration or even killed. My father sent money and they let me go. I paid someone to drive me to New York, but they only took me to another hotel in Texas. I had to call a friend in New York who sent money so I could pay someone else to take me here.
Once immigrants arrive in this country they cannot find jobs on their own, because they do not speak English or know where to find work. Contractors offer to help, but often they send us to jobs where we will be mistreated. They say there will be good housing, clean water and decent wages, and then when we agree and go to the job it is different. The water is dirty, there is no telephone, nobody will take us to buy food. If an employer offers to pay nine dollars an hour, the contractor tells the worker the pay is seven dollars an hour, and then keeps the other two dollars for himself. After some time in the United States we learn this. But we all come blind.
Mexicans can find work, and while we work very, very hard they will keep us. When we cannot keep up the pace they let us go, because there are always more Mexicans coming. If we need anything, if we have any questions or problems, we have to ask the crew boss in Spanish so he can ask the employer in English. And many times he does not tell the employer what we tell him. So I started to study English while I was doing farm work. When the crew boss realized that I was beginning to understand when he talked to the boss in English, and that I was translating for the other workers who only spoke Spanish, he was angry and began to discriminate against me.
I had a friend who was working in potato harvesting. The machine cut off one of his fingers. The boss called the ambulance and they took him away. When the hospital called to ask who would pay his medical bills, the boss said it was not his responsibility; he said my friend had to pay everything. And since no one would pay he had to wait a long time, answer questions and fill out papers–with translation–while he was in much pain. Finally they fixed his finger, gave him one pill, and sent him home with orders not to work for 3 days. After 3 days the boss said he had to start working again or he would lose his job. He did not want to lose his job, so he went back to work, dripping blood and in great pain. His arm swelled up, but he kept working. Finally he collapsed and they took him back to the hospital. This time they kept him there for 15 days. Then he came back and we, his friends, took care of him. We fed him, washed things for him, gave him a plastic bag to put over his hand when he showered. He never received workman’s compensation or any kind of payment. We did not know anyone with power to help him. In time he healed, partly–he had less pain, although he still could not use his finger as well as before. He went back to work. Then Immigration deported him.
When we are not working we still face discrimination. When we go to the store, people look at us as though we were dirty. I wanted to learn English so I would know what people were saying about me, but sometimes it is disagreeable to know what they say. “Here come the monkeys” or ‘the *** Mexicans.” Maybe it is because we are brought to the stores to buy groceries in large groups, after working all day, without a chance to wash or to change our clothes and make ourselves presentable. People avoid us and look at us as though we were people who had no value. I do not understand why they think this way, since we do the hardest work in the fields, and we harvest the food that they are buying. Some people really do offer help to immigrants. The Catholic churches will often help us from their hearts. Some volunteers transport immigrants to buy food, do laundry, attend church services, get away from their workplaces for a little while so that they do not feel imprisoned. This is risky for them, because often the police stop people who look Hispanic and ask them to show their papers. I wish people would not treat us like animals. I wish they would remember that we are people like them and that we only come seeking work.
Agriculture by Joanna
Growing food has always been central to our work here. Often I describe this work in terms of each year’s produce: what grew well, what failed, how much we had to eat and share. But this is only one part of farming. The other part is building good soil and a sustainable system in which the different things that we grow support one another. This is our most basic work, which makes all the rest possible. Year by year we learn to do it better.
We’ve been working on soil improvement since we arrived at SFF. When we got here we stopped plowing the garden with a tractor and started working the soil by hand. We also established permanent beds and paths. This avoids compacting soil in the beds and wasting nutrients by spreading them where we walk. We grow cover crops under tall vegetables or before and after frost-sensitive ones. Any cover crop will help to preserve soil structure and prevent erosion during winter. Some crops add nitrogen to the soil, others smother weeds, and others have deep taproots that break up hardpan and bring nutrients up to levels where garden plants can access them. This winter Lorraine and then I read about low-till gardening. Its proponents claim that soil which is less frequently disturbed is more likely to hold moisture well and to provide a good environment for earthworms, symbiotic bacteria and the other creatures that build healthy soil. Less open soil also means less inviting habitat for weed seeds. Many gardeners have found that cover crop roots and earthworms aerate and mix the soil quite adequately. This year instead of digging over the beds I am picking rocks and pulling weeds from the surface, digging planting holes or furrows between the roots of last year’s plants, adding compost and mulch, and watching to see what will happen.
Over time we need fewer and fewer outside inputs for the garden. We fertilize the soil with cover crops or with compost made from manure from the goat pen, weeds from the garden and scraps from the kitchen. I use sawdust and bark, left over from the lumber Zach mills, to suppress weeds in the paths. Neighbors are usually glad to give us extra mulching materials and old newspapers to put underneath mulch.
This year our tomato seedlings got off to a good start and then stalled out, despite warm, sunny weather and regular spray-feedings of organic fertilizer. Finally I realized that I hadn’t put enough organic matter at their roots. We potted them up and fed them with the compost Lorraine makes indoors in the worm bin, and they grew prodigiously. Now our only concern is whether they’ll be too large before the last frost.
Three years ago we tried to start shiitake mushrooms in logs; we spent a lot of time inoculating and soaking them but never got any mushrooms. I called the company that had sold me the shiitake spawn, and they said that their experienced mushroom grower and troubleshooter had left the company so they couldn’t give me any advice. Last year we asked a local mushroom expert about reliable mushroom spawn sources and tried again. This spring we have started to harvest mushrooms. The first harvests are small, which we had expected, but the mushrooms are delicious. Now we’re reading quantities of conflicting advice about how to manage fruiting logs. We’ll keep learning from our mistakes.
Nikita had her kids (see Lorraine’s article on page 1) shortly before our new piglets arrived. This is how we’ve always meant to make the timing work out, but usually we haven’t been able to get piglets when we expected them. This year Dodo and Dahlia were large, healthy, and available just when we wanted them. So far we have plenty of milk for Olga and Nadia (the kids) and Dodo and Dahlia (the piglets)to drink, and for us to use and make into cheese to share.
The weather and my mistakes still lead to many frustrations. We had a warm spell in April, with highs in the 80s, and began eating asparagus earlier than ever before. The rain stopped falling once the soil was dry enough to work, so I was watering before breakfast and after supper. Then the temperatures plunged, the hose froze, and we lost quite a few asparagus spears in an unexpected hard freeze. Now we’re harvesting plenty of good spears again. I didn’t put compost at the roots of the early lettuce when I set it out, and so far my belated attempts to dig compost in and add other organic fertilizers haven’t led to much growth. But the peas are growing well, greens, radishes, carrots and potatoes are up, and onions, broccoli, cabbage and kale have been set out and seem to be growing well. By the time you read this we will have tomatoes, squash, cukes and peppers out and beans planted. We find the increasingly dramatic fluctuations of moisture and temperature disorienting, but we will learn to cope.
Most of the maintenance work that needs to be done now is concerned with forestry and with the new barn we are planning to build. There have been a lot of small jobs that I have done this spring in the trailers, in the farm’s buildings and repairing the fences after the winter. I have been sawing framing lumber from trees from the red pine plantation which we thinned over the winter. There are a lot of logs on the ground in there that are waiting to be picked up and brought to the mill. I want to bring the logs out as soon as possible before they decay, and the longer they sit on the ground the more trouble we are likely to have. I have been skidding the logs out to the gravel road and loading them onto a wagon which then can be moved to the mill. I have marked out on the ground where the barn will be, and I am planning to rent a mini trackhoe soon to dig the foundation trench. Then I will need to make the forms, put in rebar and arrange for a concrete mixer to come. Once the footer is poured I will need to build a concrete block wall on top of it. When the wall is done I will need to backfill around it and then grade the site off and pour the slab that will be the floor of the barn. Once the slab is cured I can begin framing the building. Any help with any of these jobs would be very much appreciated.
During the late winter and early spring I spent some time building a 5’ round dining table for use here at the farm. We had been using a folding table for all of these years, and I thought it would be nice to have a real one. I built the table from oak from a tree that had died here in our woods. Some of the lumber was sawn at a neighbor’s mill 18 months ago, and the rest was sawn on our mill last fall. The table developed one large crack during finishing, but I have repaired that and put on some more coats of finish to increase the table’s water resistance. The project was an experiment because I had never built a solid top of that size, and I certainly learned some things that will be helpful when I undertake another project of that sort. It is very satisfying to have our own supply of lumber on hand and to know that the woods are being treated appropriately. I have a list in my mind of a large number of other dead or fallen trees that I am planning to cut when time permits. We have been selling hardwood lumber since January and have thus far taken in $700 or so. I have a few lumber orders outstanding that I have not had time to fill and I am hoping to have time by fall to catch up on them. I bought a very large hand-cranked winch at an auction this spring, and I am planning to mount it on a wagon and use it to bring logs out of places where it is not possible to take the tractor. I have never used anything like it before, but it seems to be quite simple to operate. I had been thinking of looking for a 12 volt electric winch, but in some ways the hand winch will be better because it does not require an engine to be running for it to operate. As gasoline prices rise we are looking for ways to use less, and to make our operations more efficient. It would be much easier to load logs on a wagon with a bucket loader or to saw with a mill that uses hydraulics to place and move the log, but the cost is so much greater that we are much better off doing more work by hand.
The firewood is in for the fall and winter season, and soon I will begin to bring in next spring’s wood. The slabs from sawing hardwoods are very nice to burn, and I have been incorporating them into the woodpile as I go. The softwood slabs and small pieces have been going to Unity Acres for their outdoor boiler which is able to burn them. I am planning this summer or fall to build a heavy-duty two axle wagon for moving larger quantities of firewood. We have all the materials on hand and need only to find time to put them together. My old wood wagon made from the camper frame has become saggier as time has gone by, and I think it is time for a better version to be built.
After many years of good intentions, we made our first maple syrup. With help from a friend with long experience Zach set 10 taps on March 13 and on the 17th we boiled down our first batch. We had to dig through 2 feet of snow to get to the ground for our fire and it took us a while to figure out how to filter the finished syrup–and to tell when it was ready to pour. On April 8 we finished the final batch, ending up with just over 3 gallons. After we were done, we found real syrup making filters and a bunch more taps that had been given to us a few years ago and they will be useful next time around. We had good trees because our ratio of sap to syrup was about 30 to 1. The syrup is delicious and we plan to do this again next year.
On Earth Day, April 22, four people from Bright Horizons, a community service club for adults who are recovering from mental illness, came to visit the farm. They helped in the garden and cleaning up by the pond. We had lunch together made mostly from what is produced here. We took a nature walk and saw early woodland wildflowers, songbirds, a nesting Canada goose, and water snakes. The people who came wrote about the day for their newsletter and hoped to encourage others to join them for a future visit.
This spring Lorraine has found time for some landscaping, transplanting wildflowers into the woods back side of the pond, placing drought tolerant sun-loving plants on the steep sunny slope beside the road, and making decisions about the various beds around the farmhouse now that the outside renovation work is done. We’ve been adding some hummingbird and butterfly attracting plants to the pond area. Several folks have shared their excess plants and taken clumps of ours. We’re still looking for more varieties of sedum, any color of creeping phlox and lupine.
During July and August we will again be running a summer program for 8 to 11 year olds a couple mornings a week. School personnel in Pulaski are helping us coordinate this with the summer recreation program and will provide the transportation. If you want to see what we did in 2006 and hope to do again, go to www.stfrancisfarm.org/Growing%20Season
In May Kelly Otis, a youth probation officer whom Joanna had met at the community task force meetings, came to visit the farm. She was looking for a place for young people to do community service. She has some youngsters who are excited about the prospect of coming to the farm and we can always use more helping hands.
Joanna has gone back to the Pulaski high school every month to share questions and information. The signs now read “Before you spend your money….your time…your life…Stop and Think! What do you really want? What is being offered? At what price?” Many students read the signs out loud and talk about them among themselves; some come over to the table to talk and take information about military enlistment, TV and other screen time, advertising and consumerism, and alternatives to all of the above.
Nature Notes by Lorraine
This year in addition to the usual bluebirds and swallows and wrens, we had flying squirrels raise a family in one nest box and have observed great crested flycatchers building in another. We think the wood ducks used the box at the far end of the pasture pond since we saw them there daily from the third week of April through May. Geese had a nest on an old muskrat lodge on that pond and when the goslings hatched they brought them to the main pond for a few days before moving on. Phoebes nested under the eaves of the garden shed and robins in the low door of the silo and in willows by the pond. We hear great horned and barred owls but don’t know if they nest on the farm or merely include it in their hunting territory. We hear the songs of veery, wood thrush and hermit thrush when we go for sunset walks through the woods. We also regularly see and/or hear kingfishers, herons, several woodpeckers including the pileated, various blackbirds and sparrows, yellow warblers, vireos, hummingbirds, ruffed grouse, turkeys, various hawks and turkey vultures. In early spring I notice intriguing large stick built nests or holes in trees and wonder who might live there. But soon leaves make watching harder and work keeps me closer to the buildings and I miss a lot.
In early spring we listen eagerly for the first wood frog and peeper choruses. Later they give way to or merge with the calls of leopard and pickerel frogs, toads and grey tree frogs and finally the green and bull frogs which have just begun calling. We have time to notice the early woodland wildflowers that bloom before the trees leaf out and shade the forest floor. This year I’ve been noticing the many kinds of ferns and thinking I’d like to learn more about them, perhaps move some clumps to the pond area. We bought a book about dragonflies and butterflies to use with children this summer (see paragraph in “In Brief” on page 7). They won’t be here for the best bird watching, but dragonflies will be patrolling the pond and butterflies and caterpillars busy in the fields and along the hedgerows.
Self-righteous service is impressed with the ‘big deal’…True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service…Self-righteous service is temporary…True service acts from ingrained patterns of living. It springs spontaneously to meet human need. Self-righteous service puts others into its debt and becomes one of the most subtle and destructive forms of manipulation. True service builds community. –Richard Foster, The Celebration of Discipline
Growing Season by Lorraine
“Growing Season” is the name we chose for the six week program we did this summer in cooperation with the Pulaski schools. The principal and counsellors at the elementary school signed up 11 students ranging in age from 8 to 11. The school arranged busing so that the children arrived at the farm between 9 and 9:30 and were picked up at 12:30 each Tuesday and Thursday. Over the 6 weeks of the program everything seemed to be growing on the farm while we and the children were growing and the relationships between us were growing too.
Each day after breakfast the children helped with chores. Much of the work was in the garden where the growing season is most noticeable. The garlic grew–they helped cut off the scapes the first week and harvested garlic in the fourth. They picked beans and pulled up the plants a few weeks later and fed them to the goats and helped plant cover crops. With so much rain the weeds grew and we pulled them together and more grew and we pulled those and . . . The children also helped work on the site of the new barn, throwing rocks into the dump wagon to fill in mudholes in the woods roads and shoveling dirt to backfill around the foundation. They saved the worms they found to give to the chickens and we found snapping turtle eggs laid in the loose dirt. Some days at the end of the chore time the children helped move the pigs onto fresh ground, and the pigs grew a lot over those six weeks.
After chores we went exploring to see what was growing uncultivated on the farm. We found 15 different kinds of grass, several kinds of frogs in all stages of development, a couple different snakes, many different types of mushrooms, various dragonflies and damselflies, assorted salamanders including ones we hadn’t ever seen before, ants and beetles, spiders carrying egg sacs, stinging and biting insects, nests and feathers, wildflowers and ferns. We took pictures of some things and brought others back to identify. We used different lenses for close-up views and a tube with a window in the end for seeing underwater.
After exploring we came back to the pond area where each child had a chosen spot in which to spend 10-15 minutes alone before lunch. Some lay on their backs and looked at the clouds and tree tops, some watched the pond edge or the stream, some wrote in their journals or drew pictures of the insects that crawled or flew into view. At noon they washed their hands and gathered at the picnic tables by the stream for lunch. The Food Bank provided meals and we supplemented them with goat cheese and fresh vegetables from the garden. While they ate we talked about what we’d done and what they wanted to do next time. When they had finished eating they fed crumbs to the fish and took turns on the swings or in the hammock until the bus came. They took home bags with produce each day, peas and lavender at the beginning and tomatoes, peppers and squash atthe end with garlic and cucumbers and beans and various herbs in between. One girl took lots of beans and cucumbers for freezing and for pickles. One girl only took what she would eat herself so her brother wouldn’t get any. Several took cayenne peppers and coaxed unwary friends to eat them.
Now it is the third week of August and the summer program is over but our growing season isn’t. I’m canning tomatoes and Joanna brings in more cukes and squash and peppers each day. Monday mornings someone from the soup kitchen in Lacona picks up produce, and starting this week the coordinator of the senior meal site in Pulaski picks up produce on Thursday morning. We have a visitor from the Good Works community in Ohio visiting this week (see page 2), and he has helped Joanna catch up on weeding and sawed out lumber for the barn with Zach. Next week we have another volunteer coming who is especially interested in homesteading and preserving food for winter. So just when our energy is flagging and the work still stretches out before us, extra hands are provided.
And in spite of work that never seems to be done, we take some of the time to enjoy the beauty of the farm. The hay wagon is parked on top of the hill and I call it our portable deck. We set the lawn chairs on it and often end up there in the evening to watch the sunset or the stars, to listen for the owl and wait for the deer to come out from the edges of the woods into the field. Our visitors walk with us along the woods paths or sit with us by the pond and we see the farm new through their eyes.
Dan Kauffmann’s Story
I work at a Christian organization, Good Works, that builds community with the widows, the orphans and the strangers of southeastern Ohio through various programs and means. We have several acres of land on our property and we want to develop it into a farm. We are looking to expand our gardens, have animals, and possibly even have a field of crops. I am leading this initiative andI want to do it in a way that is true to its purposes; that is, by manual labor and personal responsibility which wean oneself off the systems of oppression which we are dependent upon. Farming, then, is a way in which Good Works as an organization will work towards addressing the social sins that harm people and prohibit the kingdom of God from manifesting.
And so, I came to St. Francis Farm to find people who used sustainable and organic farming methods and who lived by the Catholic Worker principles of voluntary poverty and manual labor. I came to experience farm life from people who were concerned about the poor and who lived independently from the current systems which oppress them. I also came to rest and refresh my spirit after a long, hard summer of work. I found all this in the Hoyt family—hard working and dedicated folks quick to invite me into their way of life.
I learned that farming life is difficult but not idyllic or impossible. I saw that it is done best in a community of people devoted to each other and to the work. And I witnessed how people doing farming in this way must be centered in their relationships with God and sustained on sound agricultural and economic principles. I learned many helpful gardening, planting, composting, animal husbandry, canning, cheese making, and sawmill tips but I gained the most from simply living with the Hoyts, learning from their wisdom and resting in their care.
Through their lives they impressed upon me the meaning of manual labor and the need for it. Before coming I understood the value of work but wasn’t able to make the connection that doing the work oneself and doing it right is the way to not support systems of oppression. It is the way to do away with the filthy rotten system and work for a society where it is easier for people to be good. I am thankful for my time at SFF and am grateful for the generous hospitality shown me by the Hoyts. They are and will continue to be an inspiration for me as I continue on in my journey, learning to listen to God and seek justice in all that I do.
No one is too precious to do actual work, physical work. We must expose everybody to the reality of things. If they don’t work they don’t know anything about reality; they only know what’s written in books.--E.F. Schumacher, Good Work
Agriculture by Joanna
This time of year can feel overwhelming in the garden. There is so much produce to pick and process that it is difficult to find time and energy for weeding, fertilizing and succession planting. But I enjoy knowing that we have plenty to share. We’re finding it easy to give away all our extra produce, and we’re finding people who are interested in learning more about growing their own.
We’ve had some summer visitors from religious or charitable communities who were thinking of doing more gardening and farming as part of their ministry. They helped with the work and asked questions about organics, storage, cover cropping etc. I think some found the sheer amount of work involved daunting. Sometimes I find it daunting too, but I also find it worthwhile. A lot of physical work is involved in sustaining people’s lives. In this culture some people spend very long hours doing this basic physical work for themselves and others and have little time for anything else, while others avoid work that gets their hands dirty. So I think people who are able-bodied and have a concern for justice could start by doing some manual labor for themselves and their neighbors. I was grateful for the help our guests gave. I hope they’ve learned something useful to integrate into their lives.
We sent seed garlic home with various visitors. Tom McNamara will plant some in his new community garden on Long Island, where he is ministering to Hispanic day laborers. Dan Kauffmann took some back to plant at Good Works. And Anola Gowin, who has written for the newsletter before, took some for her new garden in Syracuse. I’m grateful for the people who gave us seed garlic back in 2001, I’m glad we’ve had the chance to share some, and I wonder who else will get seed garlic from our guests’ gardens.
We’ve also had follow-up conversations and correspondence with visitors from last year who were interested in farming. One young man has started a community garden at his church. A family who recently bought a milk goat has called with questions about goat-keeping and cheesemaking. We share what we know, and we keep on learning.
Our experiment with reduced tillage is going well. We’ve gotten plenty of vegetables from the beds we did not dig. The weeds are no worse than usual in such a rainy season, and we have had less trouble than usual with insect pests. I planted extra cucumbers this year, because we usually lose so many plants to beetle-borne diseases. This year we had very few cucumber beetles and the vines all survived and produced copiously. We had plenty of green beans to can and to give away, even though one bed died early because of mold brought on by the heavy rains. Now we’re canning tomatoes. Onions and garlic are curing under the pole barn, and we’re getting a wide variety of fresh vegetables from the garden.
We also meant to try out drip irrigation this year. During dry summers I am in the garden most days before breakfast and after supper watering with the hose. This is time-consuming, and repeated soaking and drying out is not ideal for growing vegetables or for the soil structure. This spring we fitted four of our beds with ground-level emitter tubing which puts our a steady, slow flow of water as long as it is turned on. This allows the soil to stay more uniformly moist, and also keeps the water on the root zone instead of splashing off the leaves. The theory sounds good; we didn’t get much of a chance to test it this summer because of the abundant rain. We’ll try again next year.
Our shiitake mushroom experiment has been highly successful. We’re soaking two logs every week or two and getting all the mushrooms we can use. These logs should keep producing for at least 2 or 3 more years. Next spring we’ll inoculate more logs, and perhaps see if some of our neighbors want to grow their own. Shiitakes are high in protein and antioxidants, and they don’t require a lot of space or maintenance.
Some visitors are especially interested in working with animals, but at this point this doesn’t require very much of our time. We sold our goat kids, whose sire was a Boer, to a retired couple who want to start raising goats for meat. Now we’re able to tether the does outside the garden fence where I can keep an eye on them while I pick and weed. Our pigs are growing rapidly and should be ready to butcher in September, before the nights get cold.
Maintenance by Zachary
The foundation of our new barn is now complete, and we just poured the slab for the interior floor with the help of a couple of kind people. The framing lumber is sawn and ready and I am hoping to have the frame construction in progress by the time this reaches you. I am somewhat surprised at how long it took me to do the concrete and masonry work, but now that the wooden part of the building has been reached and the summer program is done I expect progress to be more rapid. The kids from the summer program helped with the backfilling of the hole after the foundation wall was put in, and some seemed to find the job enjoyable. There will be quite a lot of heavy lifting involved in the framing process, but some of the lumber has dried sufficiently to make it lighter than it was when I first cut it. Soon the loggers will bring us the hemlock logs that will be used for the siding. I am still expecting to have the barn enclosed in time for winter if all goes fairly well.
The loggers just finished their work here, and they seem to have done a quite good job of removing the marked trees without unduly damaging the remaining ones. There are a lot of tops and small trees that we and Unity Acres will be able to use for firewood, and the loggers brought four truckloads of firewood logs out to the main part of the farm and piled them by the woodshed where I can cut them to length for our boiler. Some of them I will probably saw into lumber, including a number of beech logs from trees that were infected with a beech disease which severely affected the bark. I will be interested to see if there are patterns in the wood as a result of the disease. I hope to use some of the beech to build cabinets in the front room of the barn for storage, once the wood has had some time to dry. I am now going to be able to access some parts of the farm woodlands more easily using the roads which were made by the loggers. One area was affected by a storm which blew down a number of both marked and unmarked trees just before the loggers started work in that section and complicated the work of getting the trees out. As a result that area is rather more torn up than the others. The skid trails are being re-graded where that is needed.
I suggested this summer that a front end loader for our tractor would be a helpful thing, and the others here were willing for me to look into it. I found an affordable one near Erie, Pennsylvania that fits our tractor and was suitable for our uses. Steve Dickhout from Unity Acres was kind enough to take me in their truck to pick it up, and it has now been sitting here for about a week, waiting to be hooked up to our tractor. I hope to use it to clear snow and to pick up logs and load them on the wagon for transport to the mill. It should also be useful for a variety of other jobs around the farm. It may take me a while to figure out how to connect the hydraulics to the tractor, but I am sure it can be done by winter.
During a break in the weather in early July we cut 390 bales of hay, seventy for us and the rest to sell. We had a very wet summer and were not able to cut any more hay until late August, when we cut some which Unity Acres had requested for pig bedding. The pigs don’t eat hay, so the quality of the grass is not important for that kind of use. The rest of the fields have been mown with the bush hog to maintain their quality. The money from the sale of the hay was more than enough to pay our costs for haying and mowing the other fields. We may try to cut more to sell another year if the weather is more cooperative.
Instead of a Wish List
Sometimes people look for a wish list. This time around I just wanted to express our gratitude for all that we have. I was grateful during Growing Season when we needed different things and realized we already had them–boots and slickers for wet days, gardening gloves, head nets for those who couldn’t stand bugs in their eyes, nets for dipping in the ponds, binoculars. All of these had been donated earlier. Because of the generosity of supporters, we were able to buy hand lenses and field guides for nature exploration as well as to pay the regular bills, build the new barn and buy a bucket for the tractor to make Zach’s work a little easier. So we thank all of you who pray or pay or lend a hand in whatever way to carry out the mission of the farm.
Nature Notes by Lorraine
In June we had an unexpected wildlife encounter. A raccoon came through a 3rd floor skylight in the barn, knocking out the screen and waking me up at 3 am. Once I convinced myself that I was not still dreaming and that something much too large to be mouse, rat or even squirrel was snuffling and shuffling around my open bedroom door I yelled for Zach. He turned on lights and shut off the stairwell so we could chase the critter down and out. The noise and light wakened Joe Morton who was sleeping in the house and he got to the barn door to offer help with whatever was up just in time to meet the raccoon we were chasing out. We couldn’t figure out how it got onto the barn roof or what it hoped to find. We only occasionally see raccoons in the woods or by the pond and never quite so close.
During that June visit Joe discovered a nest in a wild rose bush on the woods edge of the path Zach mows around the perimeter of the hay fields. The nest contained 4 blue eggs and one black nestling when first found. The next day there was another egg hatched but we were baffled about the identity of the birds. Whenever we approached the nest the adult slipped into the woods edge and stayed hidden in the foliage. None of the birds we knew that lay blue eggs seemed likely. Finally Joanna sat in the woods edge being bitten by insects until she got a picture of the adult and we learned that it was a black-billed cuckoo. None of us had ever seen one before and didn’t realize they lived in this area. We kept an eye on the nest, saw all 4 eggs successfully hatched and finally the empty nest.
Giving Thanks and Waiting by Joanna
The snow has come early this year. Outdoor work is slowing down, and fewer visitors come to walk in the woods and help with the work. We have time now to look back at the year and give thanks for all its gifts, and to look to the next year and try to discern the work that will shape it.
We’re grateful for all the help we’ve received. Mike Clark spent two weeks with us in early September, helping with heavy work and learning about sustainable farming & forestry as he prepared to buy land of his own. He was involved in the barn construction from pouring the floor to raising the ridgepole and rafters, and he helped me catch up with weeding and mulching in the garden. Soon after he left Mary Follett and Barbara Steinkraus from the Quaker Meeting in Syracuse spent a couple of days with us. (See Barbara’s article ‘Two Days at the Farm.”) They helped with the tasks that tend to get left to Lorraine while Zach and I are focused on outside work: canning, cooking, making pesto, hemming cheesecloths, preparing seed garlic to plant. Then we were on our own with the work for two weeks except for day visitors. A neighbor in her eighties had lunch with us and helped us make applesauce. A woodworker from Pulaski came by to eat with us and to show Zachary how to make a new kind of wooden toy for refugee children in Syracuse. Another neighbor stopped on his bicycle, helped with the barn and took vegetables home. Women from the nearby soup kitchen picked up cheese and vegetables and dropped off bread and pasta. Bob Bartell, who volunteered here in the fall of 2007, came back for a wet week at the end of September. (See his article ‘A Pivotal Time of Help and Hope’). Mike Clark came back at the same time, and a couple from Minnesota spent two days with us in the middle of that week. Zach got siding and battens up on the new barn with this help. There’s a variety of work here so that anyone who is willing can help, and the shared work gives us time to share stories and questions.
We’re grateful for the good things the land produces. We had fresh vegetables and herbs to send to the soup kitchen into mid-November. We’ve canned plenty of beans and tomatoes to last us through the winter. Carrots, beets and potatoes are packed in the well house/root cellar, and onions and garlic hang in mesh bags above the pantry. Winter greens are growing well in the greenhouse. The orchard produced copiously this year, with the abundant rain and without tent caterpillars; we canned a lot of applesauce, froze a lot of apples and could have put up more if we had time. Lorraine has started making hard cheese again, and we’re learning better ways to wax and age it. The shiitake logs produced until mid-October; now we’re learning how to keep the logs during the winter. We also need to learn to dry mushrooms for winter use during the abundant summer harvest. We got oyster mushrooms again from the logs we inoculated last year and found wild oyster mushrooms on some of the limbs and stumps left after our timber sale.
We’re grateful for the chance to share alternatives to the consumer culture with our neighbors, and we hope to learn to do this more effectively. On November 6 we invited representatives from local churches to think about ways to help families in their congregations focus on the meaning of Christmas. Seven people came from five churches. They talked about the stress and guilt that often drive Christmas preparations and about the alternatives they’ve found helpful. They spoke of giving gifts of time instead of things, giving to the ‘least of these’ instead of to relatives who already have too much stuff, giving themselves permission to slow down and pray and rest instead of trying to meet all the expectations that are placed on them. We shared Advent traditions that have nourished our spirits and helped us refocus. We also offered some resources from Alternatives for Simple Living. (The mission of Alternatives for Simple Living is “to equip people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly and celebrate responsibly.” Their phone number is 1-800-821-6153, website is https://simpleliving.startlogic.com/indexoth.php?place=archives/Articles/WorshipAltItems.php; the Archives section of the site contains a lot of free material.) Participants expressed an interest in keeping in touch. Other people who weren’t able to attend the meeting also asked to be included on an email list for follow-up discussion. Since the meeting we’ve found another excellent Christmas resource. Thought-provoking study guides for youth and adults, suggestions for alternative giving, anti-advertising lyrics for popular Christmas tunes and other resources are available free online at www.buynothingchristmas.org. I don’t know what else may come of the inter-church meeting, but I’m glad we have begun.
I’ve resumed my monthly visits to the Pulaski high school with my STOP AND THINK! sign. On my next visit I plan to bring some material about refocusing Christmas to add to the alternative information on military recruiting, credit cards, TV and advertising that I have offered before. The students are constantly bombarded by sales messages, and I hope to help them step back and look at the things for sale, the obvious and hidden costs and their own needs and desires. Most of them hurry by and don’t stop, but some read the signs out loud, and a few stop to ask questions, take material and tell me a little bit of their stories. I wish I knew how to reach more of them. I still believe that it’s valuable for the few who do stop to see that an alternative way of living is possible.
Perhaps these hard economic times will give more people an incentive to stop and think about alternatives to the consumer culture. I don’t know what to expect in the coming months. I think that people may find it necessary to learn to do more for themselves and for their communities. I hope that we can all remember that we are safe in God’s hands and that we can’t rely on any other kind of security. I pray that we will be open to God’s guidance as we try to be good neighbors.
Two Days at the Farm by Barbara Steinkraus
As a city girl who has never lived in the country, visiting St. Francis Farm is a real treat. It’s like entering another world. At first glance it seems peaceful and idyllic, birds singing, nesting and flying, the stream across the road gurgling and attracting kingfishers and providing a home for assorted frogs and other aquatic things. There are flowers blooming in a small garden between the barn and the house, along the side of the house and all along the front of the barn. I am aware of the big vegetable garden way out back which is producing almost all the food that is eaten at the farm. I get a feeling of closeness to the land when I’m there that I don’t have when I’m at home in the city. Just when I’m beginning to feel all warm and fuzzy about life on a farm, I hear someone pounding a hammer. It’s Zach balancing up high on the timbers of a shed he is building to house the tractor. Near the shed is a saw mill, a big pile of logs, a big pile of boards and another pile of 2×4’s. The idyllic part of living on a farm is beginning to diminish. It dawns on me that all is not just peace and quiet here. There’s work to be done and lots of it.
Lorraine and Joanna greet me warmly and invite me into the barn. The barn is their home; it’s where they sleep and eat and worship, but I have come to think of the barn as the focal point, the head office, as it were, of all that happens on the farm. It is where their day begins with worship at 7 a.m. followed by breakfast, and it is the place from whence all aspects of the farm work seem to begin and end.
In my previous visits, it’s been my custom to arrive around 10 a.m., stay through lunch and then high-tail it for home. On this visit, however, I shall spend two nights, sleeping in one of the bedrooms they provide in “the house that Zach refurbished.” That means, if I get up early enough in the morning, I will be able to join the family at 7 a.m. for their half hour of silent worship in the upper regions of the barn where there is a small chapel. I look forward to doing that. On this day I arrive at 9 a.m. Worship and breakfast are over and the work of the day has begun.
Joanna was up at 6:30 to milk the goats. After settling into my room, I am ready to go back to the barn to see if there is anything I can do. Lorraine, aware that I want to be useful, has lined up a few easy jobs for me. 1) The garlic has been harvested and now the bulbs must be separated so the best cloves can be used as seed for next year’s crop. I get to do that. 2) They have taught themselves to make cheese, from the extra goat milk, and that takes cheese cloth, but they’ve worn out all their old cheese cloths and the new pieces need to be hemmed. I can do that. 3) They have gathered up the fallen apples from under the old ill-tended apple trees on the farm intending to make applesauce, but first the apples must be peeled and sliced. Instead of peeling and slicing them by hand, as I would have thought, I get to try my luck with their mechanical apple peeler. I have never seen such a “machine.” It’s a wonder. As I turn the crank to peel the apples, it also slices them. Amazing. Those three jobs keep me busy all morning and I think I’m beginning to get a glimmer of the rhythm of life on a farm. I’m also getting a bit hungry, as is everyone else.
I help clear off the table where we have been working and set it with plates, glasses, napkins and flatware. After that I chop up veggies for the stir-fry Lorraine will make for our lunch: onions, summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms, which, incidentally, they grow themselves on oak logs they inject with mushroom spores. Lorraine adds pasta to the stir-fry, and the meal is completed with two kinds of home-made goat cheese, bread and a salad of fresh greens. Yum. Add to that, much friendly and instructive conversation and you have a perfect morning.
At the appointed time the table must be cleared. Joanna gets busy rinsing off the plates before putting them in the institutional dish washer. Zach goes across the road to feed the pigs, and then back to the shed he’s building. Lorraine goes back to canning tomatoes. ‘Tis the season. She has already canned over a hundred quarts, but plans to finish around a hundred and fifty, enough to carry them through the winter. After she blanches red and yellow tomatoes, I get to slough off the skins and cut them in quarters. Sometime during the afternoon, when I’m not looking, she manages to can a good number more.
The afternoon provides me an opportunity to take a nap and a walk in the woods with Joanna. I find that walking does not agree with me on this day, (must be my asthma), so I go back to the barn and sit quietly on the couch in the dining/living room and work on my Sudoku puzzles. To my surprise, while doing those strenuous (ha, ha) jobs in the morning, the middle finger on my left hand sustained some sort of injury that began to pain me quite a bit…another excuse to sit and do my puzzles for the rest of the day.
After the evening meal is finished and the dishes cleared away, we all adjourn to the chapel where they have put out an assortment of hymnals and we spend a happy hour singing. Joanna amazes me because she knows all the words to all the verses of all the hymns we choose.
The big concrete block barn that once housed cows now houses an institutional kitchen and a wood-burning boiler that Zach tends, which heats their water year round as well as the entire barn in winter. It has dormitories on the upper floors with enough beds to sleep groups of people who come either to help with the work, to hold retreats or maybe just to get a taste of life on a farm.
To save me, I can’t seem to recall how I spent my second day, except for attending worship and eating three fine meals. I do recall that after the days chores were completed, we again adjourned to the chapel where we had extended conversations about our life experiences, which sometimes catapulted us all into flights of uproarious laughter. I remember laughing for days afterwards… at home… in the city. I am already trying to plan my next visit to St. Francis Farm. In case, dear reader, you haven’t already guessed, I love going there. I will aim for May certainly, as that is when there are several blue bird families that nest nearby.
A Pivotal Time of Help and Hope by Bob Bartell
My experience with Saint Francis Farm has been one of help and hope. After reading Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness, I wanted to learn more about the Catholic Worker and their present day activities. I encountered the farm’s website and arranged a two day visit last fall. Being interested in living a simpler, more sustainable life but never physically experiencing an example of that, I hoped that I could learn from the Hoyts and how they lived. This fall I returned for a week and the experience has helped me greatly.
I am consistently amazed by the expanse and weight of the experience. I knew I was going to learn about how this family lived, but I did not know that would include learning: how to move logs with different log-moving tools (one being a peavey, the other being some two-person contraption consisting of a handle and hook and much stumbling and laughing), how to milk a goat (or how to attempt to milk a goat), how to ride a bicycle through the forest to Unity Acres, how to put new shingles on a roof, how to prepare apples and onions for winter storage, how to split and stack wood, how to turn compost, how to attempt walking on stilts, how to harvest various things from the garden, how to identify oyster mushrooms, how to use a portable sawmill, how to use a table saw, how to put siding up on a barn, how a hay-baler works, how to drive a tractor, how to tell different trees apart, how to use a scythe, how to make quick cheese…and all that is a partial list. I was also able to observe and learn from how the Hoyts live. Being able to experience how they structure their lives and how they interact with others was very helpful. One of the first things I noticed was the difference in rhythm from the life I am used to. Theirs is one of peace and space. I am used to a way of life that is cramped and constantly moving but often essentially unproductive, life focused on efficiency and objective task-accomplishment, starting and finishing in order to start again. The practice of silent prayer in the morning and relaxed meals every day was a poignant example of how life can be lived, how life doesn’t need to be all about pace in order to be productive.
Taking a walk in the forest energizes and refreshes me and I’m thankful that I was able to experience how that could be a natural and useful part of everyday life. Learning how to use the saw mill and then cutting logs into siding for the barn was fun and fulfilling. It reminded me of being in grade school and learning something new, something that I knew was useful and well worth learning. That task alone was one of the most satisfying and rewarding of my life (I’m not exaggerating at all).
Along with the learning and the different rhythm, the conversation and relationships with those I met was greatly beneficial. Being able to talk about things like agriculture, politics, faith, community, books, etc. is something I value and appreciate. I was impressed as I observed how they opened their home to others and interacted out of genuine care and a desire to help and love.
It is difficult to properly express the role that Saint Francis Farm has had in my life. As I look back over what I’ve written I think of so much more that I experienced and that my relationship with the Hoyts has meant to me. I think of my time at the farm often and it stands as a pivotal time, a time of help and hope, of peace and space, of experiencing Truth and a simpler life.
Maintenance by Zachary
This fall my main project has been trying to complete the new barn construction before the snow arrived. This morning (11-17) we woke up to our third significant snowfall of the year with no indication that the snow will melt any time soon. The exterior of the building is complete except for the construction of a cupola to draw hot air out of the loft during warm weather. The interior is still in progress. The loft floor joists are about 30 percent covered, and I have logs lined up at the sawmill from which I will saw the rest of the floorboards. I am using a ladder for access from the ground floor to the loft, but I have most of the lumber ready to build stairs. The electricity for the building is still being supplied by an extension cord from the house, and I hope to install permanent wiring shortly. The sawmill has been moved into the open shed on the side of the building, and it is much more pleasant to work under a roof at this time of year. I have put the baler away under its part of the shed.
Once the barn is done I am hoping to bring in the rolling chicken coop and a couple of our wagons which all need to be rebuilt with new lumber. It is much less expensive to do these kind of projects now that we have the sawmill than when we had to buy lumber. Early in November a few people came from SUNY Oswego for a couple of hours and helped me use a block and tackle to lift the table saw, jointer, and radial arm saw up into the loft through the stairwell opening. Now I am using the tools to prepare lumber for the floor, and when that is done I will be using them to process our hardwood lumber into useful pieces after it comes off the sawmill. Several of our visitors this fall were very helpful in the work on the barn, particularly Mike Clark and Bob Bartell. Without their help we would be much further behind than we are.
It took me a while getting the front end loader mounted on our tractor and hooked up to the hydraulic system since I have very little knowledge of hydraulics, but it was a good learning experience. I used the loader this morning to move snow and found it quite effective. There are a couple of alterations I plan to make to it when time allows, but even now it is much more convenient than the back blade we used in previous years. I still have not taken time to rebuild the carburetor and replace the exhaust manifold on the tractor, but that work will be easier in the new barn. I have set the loader up so that it can be detached when it is not needed. It makes the tractor somewhat less maneuverable in tight spaces, but it saves time and effort on a lot of jobs.
When we first began turning on the heat in the barn this fall we noticed that the boiler did not seem to be putting out much heat. We had been running the wood boiler all summer, and when it was only heating domestic hot water the lack was not noticeable. I spent a fair bit of time cleaning everything I could think of and eventually called the company and asked for advice. They were able to tell me that I could try cleaning out some vents that normally did not require regular cleaning, and when I cleaned them out I found that one had been completely blocked and the other partially. Now the boiler is running well and we have all the heat we need, which is very nice with winter on its way.
I have done a little bit of maintenance on our trailers this fall, and there are a couple of projects I have postponed till spring. I replaced the chimney in one trailer and did some touch-up tarring on both roofs. One of the occupants did some window repair himself, which was very kind and saved me some hours. I did some work this fall on Steve’s trailer which also sits on the farm. In the spring I will need to replace some rotten sub-floor in one of our trailers. I spent some time one day at the Fiddler’s Hall Of Fame and Museum in Osceola installing trim boards, replacing a panel in the pavilion roof and doing some other small repairs. I attend their free summer concerts when I can, and I wanted to be helpful to the organization.
The company that bought our timber sent a man who graded the skid trails that needed it, and they were left in pretty good shape. Then Unity Acres sold some timber and in the course of its removal the gravel road between us got quite torn up because of some heavy rains and snows. The loggers have left for the season but will be back next summer. After they finish the road willneed some work. The loggers who worked here didn’t cut any of the trees in two of the areas included in the sale, and in the areas where they did work they didn’t cut all of the marked trees. I hope to get out and cut those trees and bring them in to our sawmill. One area which they didn’t cut is very handy to one of our fields, but the other is on the far side of Trout Brook, which will make access difficult. With more Amish families moving into the neighborhood all the time, we might be able to get someone with a team of horses to help us where our equipment would be difficult to use. There are dead trees and windblown trees in many parts of our woods that will make good lumber if I can find time to cut them and move them.
Nature Notes by Lorraine
Mid-November and already the pond is frozen over and we’ve had snow that had to be shoveled several times. Last week we had morning prayer by the pond a couple times and the last campfire of the year when the moon was full and the air mild. The fall seemed to pass in a blur of bright foliage, large V’s of departing geese, and the shadows and splashing of salmon and steelhead swimming up Trout Brook. In September we heard barred owls and coyotes at dusk night after night and the swallows were shoulder to shoulder on the power lines that cross the fields. One evening while we were sitting on the hay wagon on the hill watching the fading sunset a woodcock flew into the weeds just a few feet from us and we watched him until he was indistinguishable from the shadows. Early in October we took one of the golden days to go exploring, leaving all our unfinished work behind. We ended up at Inman Gulf which we had never visited although it is only about 25 miles from the farm. The leaves were brilliant and mushrooms were emerging all over the forest floor and on mossy snags. We walked for miles and came home late for milking, tired and refreshed. We seem to see ruffed grouse whenever we go walking in the woods or fields. Now that the leaves are all down, we see nests we missed in the green time. During the first snow storm we watched a great blue heron trying to perch in the top of the big cottonwood beside the pond. I notice again how beautiful bare branches are against the morning or evening sky and how snow on the ground catches and reflects every kind of light so that the shortening days don’t seem so dark.
The consumerism that surrounds the celebration of Jesus’ birth is curious when we contrast it with his teachings on possessions. Jesus’ life and teachings contrasted dramatically with his surrounding culture. Christians are called to live in similar opposition to the norms and assumptions of their society. Thus, in a culture marked so heavily by acquisition and consumption, following Christ’s example means living simply and aspiring for an attitude of “enough.” (excerpted from buynothingchristmas.org)
The three of us who live here as full time volunteers depend on your donations and prayers. Your generosity allows us to use our gifts and the farm’s resources to give generously to others in need. This time of year that means making simple toys for refugee children. We look forward to lighting Advent candles, sharing stories, singing songs old and new. We invite you to look for stars, listen for music and to welcome the child and stranger that enters your family or neighborhood. We hope to hear from you during these cold months when we slow down and reconsider our work. Let us know how we’ve helped or informed or inspired or confused you. Tell us ways you’ve found to live outside the box. Make plans to visit in the green time or help us get in touch with others you know who are looking for the kind of experiences Bob and Barbara describe in this issue.